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Stories from the valley

Salmon School: Three Reasons Why Fish in the Classroom is a Natural Fit

Contributed by Jennifer Harrison

On a chilly November morning, people are counting fish eggs. Tiny pink salmon eggs are gently separated into groups of thirty-five and placed in moist cheesecloth. The fish eggs are then packed into small ice chests at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. The eggs destination: schools.

Over 140 Sacramento Valley schools are getting fish in their classrooms. For six weeks students will see these eggs grow from the eyed stage into small fish that are ready to be released back into the water they came from.

Here are three reasons why this program works, and why maybe we should all go to “fish school.”

Wildlife wakes up the classroom

Claps and squeals of joy greet us. Or greet Brandie Herron, Fish in the Classroom Manager with California Fly Fishers Unlimited, one of the volunteer groups bringing eggs to different schools.

“A lot of these schools that we go to have students who don’t have the opportunity to go fishing with their parents, or go to a river or they’ve never even seen a fish before,” explains Herron.

Today’s lucky recipients are first graders at Phoebe Hearst Elementary School. The exuberant students get a quick lesson on all things salmon before seeing the eggs carefully placed into a tank where they will grow before their very eyes. A small bag of fish food is provided, with clear instructions on how and when to feed the fish.

This program, loosely referred to as “Fish in the Classroom,” is decades old. It’s a collaboration between the Department of Fish and Wildlife and various organizations who deliver the necessary aquarium supplies and fish eggs to schools.

Cycle of life

Fish eggs survive and thrive in a very delicate environmental balance. Students learn about maintaining proper water temperature, nutrient needs and the life cycle of salmon. Every school day brings anticipation and education about this special species.

In some cases, after six weeks of raising fish, schools travel to the area where the eggs originated and release their fish. This is a big moment.

“Some kids say a prayer over their fish, some kids cry, some kids bless their fish or name their fish and then they say goodbye Charles” details Herron.

Salmon Sense

Salmon are vital to our area. The Sacramento River is home to four runs of Chinook salmon and many groups are working together to restore the threatened species. The Fish in the Classroom program educates these first graders at Phoebe Hearst Elementary and students throughout the Sacramento Valley on the importance of salmon all while seeing them grow from a tiny egg into a phenomenal fish.